Here we are—senshuraku [the final day]—Day 15 of the 2016 Nagoya Basho. And we won’t know the winner until the final match of the day (well, maybe the next to last match, depending on how things go). Yokozuna Harumafuji remains in the lead with a 12–2 record, with ozeki Kisenosato and M10 Takanoiwa trailing by just one win.
It’s been a crazy basho, unlike any we’ve seen in the last couple of years. A pack of rikishi jockeyed for the lead throughout the first ten days. And whenever one or two seemed to be pulling ahead, circumstances made it so that the pack was able to catch back up. We’ve seen some pretty rare kimarite [winning maneuver] including at least one that isn’t on the official list. But the craziest thing over the last few days have been the “matta” calls.
“Matta” basically means “wait,” and it’s what the gyoji [referee] (or one of the shimpan [side judges]) calls when the tachi-ai [initial charge] is not done correctly. There are a few rules about the tachi-ai, and more than a few traditions, but all that really NEEDS to happen is that both rikishi are in position and ready to go. Historically, it’s more about a feeling of rhythm than anything else. When both opponents were ready . . . the match began. Now, mostly because of TV coverage, there are strict time limits and a point where the rikishi are told they “must be ready,” but still the actual tachi-ai is a matter of timing, where both men commit at the same time. If one of the opponents jumps the gun, or uses gamesmanship to lull the other into distraction, a “matta” is called.
But the matta calls we’ve had over the last few days have been inexplicable. The rikishi, the audience, and the commentators don’t see whatever it is the gyoji and shimpan have been seeing. In particular, Hakuho had both of his last two matches interrupted by “matta” calls that no number of slo-mo replays could satisfactorily explain. Harumafuji had one yesterday, too. I just hope that none of today’s proceedings are interrupted without clear justification. Because once a rikishi has his rhythm shaken, it’s like making him fight with one hand tied behind his back.
The overall performance of the Makuuchi division is still fairly even. Removing the rikishi who missed most of the basho because of injury, here on senshuraku there are 15 rikishi who have achieved kachi-koshi [majority of wins], 17 who have achieved make-koshi [majority of losses]. and 5 who enter the final day teetering with 7–7 records. Surprisingly three of those are rikishi in the sanyaku ranks—ozeki Goeido, ozeki Terunofuji, and sekiwake Kaisei. And the second to last match of the day will pit Terunofuji against Kaisei . . . so at least one of them will end up with a losing record.
M10 Takanoiwa (11–3) vs. M5 Yoshikaze (10–4)—Takanoiwa is only one loss behind Harumafuji, so if he wins this match he’ll be included in a playoff should the yokozuna lose in the final match of the day. Also of note is that both rikishi in this bout were awarded special prizes this basho. Takanoiwa was one of two rikishi awarded the kanoto-sho [Fighting Spirit Prize] (the other rikishi was Takarafuji), and yoshikaze was awarded the shukun-sho [Outstanding Performance Prize], which is the special prize most often unawarded because to get it a rank-and-file rikishi must have a particularly good tournament that includes beating a yokozuna. (5:30)
M1 Mitakeumi (4–10) vs. M12 Tokushoryu (6–8)—This match is of no consequence to the yusho [tournament championship] race, but it is another chance to get a look at how much Mitakeumi has improved, even over the course of the this two weeks. I think we’re going to hear a lot from this young rikishi in the coming years . . . he’s got the right kind of style and attitude to thrive in the upper echelon. (8:10)
Sekiwake Kaisei (7–7) vs. ozeki Terunofuji (7–7)—Two rikishi who have fought hard all basho and ended up needing a win on Day 15. Kaisei has done well in his first ever basho ranked at sekiwake, but losing focus during Week 2 means he still needs one more win to get his kachi-koshi. Meanwhile, Terunofuji is still clearly trying to overcome an injured knee, but since he’s already kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] if he can’t pull a win out here, he’ll drop from sumo’s second highest rank. Desperation makes for exciting sumo, and high-ranking desperation makes for especially memorable bouts. (10:50)
Ozeki Kisenosato (11–3) vs. ozeki Goeido (7–7)—Another match where both rikishi NEED a win. Kisenosato, of course, wants to stay one behind the leader and poised to be in in a playoff if Hakuho beats Harumafuji. His hopes for promotion to yokozuna will pretty much be shattered (perhaps permanently) if he finishes this tournament with four losses. On the other hand, Goeido is still looking for his kachi-koshi. Or, more accurately, he’s looking to avoid make-koshi beacuse that would make him kadoban in September. More high-level desperation! (11:45)
Yokozuna Hakuho (10–4) vs. yokozuna Harumafuji (12–2)—Harumafuji controls his own destiny. If he beats Hakuho, the yusho will be decided, and he will hoist the Emperor’s Cup for the eighth time in his career. If he loses and either Kisenosato or Takanoiwa have won earlier in the day, there will be an immediate playoff to determine who wins the basho. Both yokozuna have been looking a little banged up the past few days, but I give the edge to Harumafuji (besides, I predicted he’d win the basho). Still, you never know what Hakuho will pull from his bag of tricks, and he is trying to avoid having a five-loss basho for the first time since 2012. (12:30)